In a game Thursday night that was a little too close for comfort for the Dallas Cowboys, they set a franchise record with their eleventh straight win when they defeated the Minnesota Vikings 17-15 in the Twin Cities. While the Cowboys (11-1) will still have the best record in the NFL at the end of Week 13, the Vikings (6-6) are currently eighth overall in the NFC, two spots short of qualifying for a Wild Card spot in the NFL Playoffs. If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) lose on the road this week to the San Diego Chargers (5-6), then both teams will be tied with Minnesota for seventh place in the conference. The Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles also could join them with records of 6-6 if they win this week.
While Sam Bradford passed for 247 yards and Minnesota’s only touchdown, the entire Vikings team only rushed for 87 yards, led by Jerick McKinnon, who had 41 rushing yards and Minnesota’s lone receiving touchdown. Without a serious threat at running back for Minnesota, Dallas was able to put more pressure on Bradford and the Vikings receivers. In a game decided by two points against the best team in the league, a seven-time All-Pro running back could have been all the difference the Vikings needed against the Cowboys. It could have also made the difference in their losses to teams like the Detroit Lions (twice) and Washington Redskins. If Peterson were enough to tip the scales in the four games that the Vikings have lost by less than seven points this season, they could easily be 10-2 right now, tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the best record in the NFL.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, as reported by ESPN, Peterson has been out since being injured in Week 2 and undergoing knee surgery. However, recent reports are that Peterson was seen running at a recent Vikings practice, leading many to speculate that he will, indeed, make a return before the 2016 NFL season ends. Early estimates were that Peterson could return sometime by mid-to-late December, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has been fairly quiet on the subject of Peterson’s specific return date. But on Tuesday, Zimmer at least seemed positive when talking to the press about Peterson:
“He’s doing good. He’s probably ahead of schedule, I guess.”
But even if Peterson were healthy enough to return at 100 percent by December 11 and play the final four games for Minnesota, it still wouldn’t be an easy road for the Vikings to the NFL Playoffs.
Two of Minnesota’s remaining games are against teams with 2-9 records, as they play the Jaguars in Jacksonville for Week 14 and host the Chicago Bears for the final game of the regular season. But in Week 15 and Week 16, they play two teams who are currently 5-6: the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers. A running back like Peterson could have a huge game against a struggling defense like Indianapolis, who give up over 116 rushing yards per game this season.
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With the possibility of both the Vikings and Packers being 8-6 heading into their Week 16 match-up, it could turn out to be the most important game of the season for both teams. With the Green Bay Packers defense currently ranked seventh in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, the addition of a healthy Adrian Peterson to the Vikings offense could be enough to send Minnesota to the NFL Playoffs in a Wild Card spot.
In fact, with a tough schedule remaining for the Detroit Lions, a strong finish for the Vikings could see them as NFC North Division Champions. The Lions play the Saints (5-6) in New Orleans this week, and then host the lowly Chicago Bears (2-9) in Week 14. Then they travel to New York to play the Giants (8-3) and Dallas to play the Cowboys (11-1) before finishing the season at home in a big division match-up against the Green Bay Packers (5-6).
[Featured image by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images]